APRIL 2017 • 29
DOWN WIND • JOAN E. PRICE
On April 2, 2016, Richard Lopez protests at Stallion Gate while tourists from all over the world pass by him to see the Trinity Site. Lopez, a farmer and veteran from the San Antonio and Socorro areas impacted by 1945 radioactive Trinity Test fallout, devotes his time to organize public education outreach and support for a compensation bill for people with cancer histories in New Mexico.
Trinity Test Effects Still Haunting New Mexicans
Tularosa Basin Downwinders hit the road with a fact-filled document
aryl Gilmore, a young man attending the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was called home to Tularosa on July 16, 1945. Seventeen miles of gravel road between Socorro and Carrizozo was the slowdown — the wear on the tires of his brothers’ automobile was always a problem. But today, an unexpected convoy of six military vehicles stopped him and demanded his attention. “Get out of here as fast as you can,” one of the men told him. “There is a poison gas all over the area. Get out!” Gilmore did so, but by the time he arrived home, he had a sizzling rash like bad sunburn all over his body. A few days later, he rode his motorcycle back across the same stretch in the full sun to return to college. Henry Danley, a rancher from Alamogordo, was working for the military high on a fire observation tower. On July 16, 1945, a huge ball of fire rose before dawn like a roiling mushroom cloud filling the sky. Danley reported this seeming fire to his superiors and was told, “Don’t tell anybody. It was just an ammunition dump explosion.” For years, Danley kept to his orders as did other employees in a disinformation campaign from the military that persists to this day. In the ensuing months, rural residents of Socorro, San Antonio, Bingham, Oscuro, Carrizozo, Tularosa and Alamogordo, mostly Hispanic Catholic families employed almost exclusively in an agriculture economy, were shaking their heads with mystification. Talk of “chickens and pet dogs that died” in Oscuro; young cows out on the range “whose coats changed color and the livestock inspector that took the cows away;” and “an ash like snow or flour” in the middle of summer appearing for days from Alamogordo all the way north of Carrizozo and east over the Sierra Blanca mountains into Ruidoso bringing a fear to some that the “end of the world” had arrived. Indeed it had — in the form of generations of cancers and a crisis of economic disruption. Skin cancers began to appear. A litany of internal cancers developed — whole extended families lost and are still losing grandmothers and grandfathers, daughTularosa Basin residents protest the open house invitation from the military to visit the famous Trinity Test Site of a radical secret new bomb then unleashed on Japanese cities to end World War II. (Photos by Joan E. Price)
Livia Cordova, 16, hands out a report about the effects of the Trinity Site test to participants in a public outreach meeting in Tularosa Feb.10. Cordova read, typed and scanned 800 family cancer histories into a data base for the final health assessment document she helped create.
ters and sons, mothers and fathers to a dizzying array of cancers and complications. Residents often drive hundreds of miles for medical diagnosis and treatment. Many moved from the region for better access to treatment — a sort of diaspora of residents with long historic roots in the Tularosa Basin, a remote vast expanse walled by mountain ranges, taking their stories with them. In 2005, Tina Cordova, valedictorian of the Tularosa Senior Class in 1986, and Fred Tyler, a procurement officer on the military base and Tularosa Village Trustee, compared their family stories and committed themselves to open the “Pandora’s box” of misinformation, cover-up and stories of debilitating cancers they had heard at the family dinner tables all their lives. They formed the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, becoming outspoken activists with a small band of supporters, confronting a web of deceit and misinformation at the military and Congressional level. They began collecting family health histories and oral accounts, began annual memorials to the cancer victims each July 16, and organized protests of the cover-up. They point out that the military is conveniently abandoning its responsibility to acknowledge health impacts from the first atomic test conducted in New Mexico while Congress compensated the Downwinders in Utah, 150 miles from atmospheric testing, with long overdue compensation for the health impacts in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
Here, the uninformed residents living as close as 20 to 45 miles away took the only jobs available as the military expanded in the basin stoically remaining patriotic Americans. “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” said Patrick Garcia, teacher at Tularosa High School and Tularosa Village Trustee for eight years. Garcia joined Cordova and Tyler as family cancer histories kept coming in. Garcia started telling his classes “about the TBDC findings and activities, the names of the families, the tower that supported the test bomb, the fused radioactive soils still sold as souvenirs, how the government says one thing and the locals another,” he said. The students had never heard this in New Mexico history classes but “It became real” to his students when he showed them a recent PBS program posted on the TBDC website and when they saw their own aunts and uncles in national media coverage. After 10 years of work, the activists have a new and powerful professional document “Unknowing, Unwilling and Uncompensated: The Effects of the Trinity Test on New Mexicans and the Potential Benefits of Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments.” The document’s author, Myrriah Gomez, Ph. D. from Pojoaque, presents a walkthrough of the chilling situation and “generational trauma,” and goes over the technical information associated with it. The TBDC is dedicated to an all-out public outreach for support of a third amendment to the original RECA bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Mike Crapo of Idaho to include the estimated 40,000 who were directly impacted by atmospheric atomic bomb testing and, in fact, the population of New Mexicans whose history of lives lost testify to long-unrecognized grief and economic impact from the long-lasting generation effects of the toxic radiation release. To download the TBDC report on the effects of the Trinity test on people in New Mexico and to write support letters, please visit http:// www.trinitydownwinders.com/ health-impact-assessment.
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